After graduating with a double major in English and Psychology from Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. in 1961, Dominic Ruggerio joined the Army as a 2nd lieutenant. He went to basic at Fort Knox, Ky. the following year.
“Because of the ‘Berlin Wall’ I went on active duty as an armored cavalry officer with a tank unit, 1st Squadron, 14th Armored Cavalry in Fulda, Germany, along the Russian border the same year,” the 75-year-old retired officer explained. “I started out as a platoon leader with five M-60 tanks, some scouts and mortar-men. For three years I did that.
“Then I came back to the U.S. and attended the Armored Officers’ Advanced Course at Fort Knox for a year. I stayed at Fort Knox while other soldiers were being sent to Vietnam and Germany,” Ruggerio said. “I trained troops to be armored cavalry scouts.
“Then I got a call from my assignment officer and told I was about to become a paratrooper. I was sent to airborne school at Fort Benning, Ga. At 27 I was one of the oldest soldiers in the training unit. After graduation I was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. I became a member of the 3rd Brigade at Fort Campbell, Ky.
“I was made the assistant personnel officer for the outfit when I arrived at the 101st. I wanted a combat job. My new commander said he’d see what he could do for me.
“I had hardly arrived at Campbell when our brigade got word we were being sent to Vietnam. It took us six weeks to deploy the 3,500 airborne troops and their 5,180 tons of equipment overseas,” he recalled.
“We arrived at Bien Hoa, South Vietnam on Dec. 7, 1967–Pearl Harbor Day– and deployed to Phuoc Vinh, a village about 35 miles to the north. It was along the edge of War Zone-C, right where the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran through,” Ruggerio said.”
The 101st Brigade wasn’t long in Vietnam when they were engaged in the enemy’s “Tet Offensive.” Tens of thousands of North Vietnamese Army soldiers and Vietcong guerillas overran most of South Vietnam’s major cities and military bases.
“When ‘Tet’ hit elements of the 3rd Brigade were deployed to the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon that the enemy had taken over during the early stages of the fighting. We recaptured the building from the VC room-by-room as we worked our way down to the ground floor,” he said. “It took us about three days, as I recall, to retake the building from the enemy.
“That was the 3rd Bregade’s baptism of fire with the Communists in Vietnam. Then we went back to War Zone-C and the Ho Chi Minh Trail where there was usually always something going on. I was assigned as inerim platoon leader of a long range recon unit as an additional duty to my primary responsibility as he brigade adjutant.
“Then I was sent to the 58th Infantry Scout Dog Unit that worked with German Shepherds–27 handlers and 27 dogs would go out in the field. The dogs would help find enemy mines as well as NVA and VC. When the dogs perked up their ears and listened intently you knew they’d found something.
“During the time I was in Vietnam I participated in several significent rescue operations where we flew in with helicopters to pick up wounded soldiers. I recall we picked up this one young man in the bush and I knew he wasn’t going to make it. Seven years later, after several years recovering in Walter Reed Army Hospital, I met him again in Texas. He was at Fort Hood, had gone to flight school and become an attack helicopter pilot.
“When I returned to the U.S. I became an ROTC instructor at the University of Maine and almost froze to death for the next couple of years. After that I went to Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. By that time I was a major. After completing the course I became the second in command of an armored cavalry unit at Fort Hood.
“Then I got my first assignment to the Pentagon as Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. This was about the time I was interviewed to become Executive Officer for the Commander and Chief of U.S. forces Korea. Nothing happened for four months and then I got a call that I had gotten the job in Korea,” Ruggerio said.
“I was assigned to Korea in June of 1978 and went to work for Gen. John Vessey, who eventually became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff some years later. By this time I was a lieutenant colonel. Korea was a wonderful experience, I took my whole family.
“During the time I was in Korea there were two coups and the president of Korea was assassinated,” he recalled. “After 13 months working for Gen. Vessey I was assigned to command the 1st Battalion, 72nd Armored along the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) in Korea–54 tanks and 800 troops.
“When I returned to the U.S. I went back to the Pentagon. This was about the time I had a heart attack. After recovering from that I became the operations guy for the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood.”
“In 1984 my assignment officer called me once more and wanted to know what I knew about Presidential Inaugurations? I told him I think they happen every four years.
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘You are about to become Executive Director to the general in charge of the Second Inauguration of President Ronald Regan. The Military District of Washington, D.C., the Army, runs the show.’
“It was a lot of fun and something I did for the next 1 1/2 years. Our primary job was to organize the inauguration and execute it. Once a week we would go to the White House and meet with Mike Deaver, Reagan’s chief of staff, for exactly 15 minutes.
“When the inauguration was all over, 50 of us spent the last six months writing a ‘How To’ inauguration manual for the next election.
“I then became commander of the 12th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Knox. It was the largest tank training brigade in the armg with 8,000 soldiers, tanks and the only unionized civilian maintenance section in the Army,” Ruggerio recalled.
“During my final two years in the Army I was assigned as the Director of Officer Training Command at Fort Monroe, Va.”
By then he was a full colonel with 30 years of service, but his chance of becoming a general officer was slim. He was pushing 50 and the powers that be in the Pentagon were looking for colonels in their early 40s to move up the command ladder.
“I had an opportunity to step out into civilian life at this point and took it,” he said. “I went to work for Deloitte & Touche LLC as Director of Administrative Services & Facilities. I spent the next 6 1/2 years working for them. Then I opened my own consulting business helping companies relocate and ran that for the next 17 years.”
Ruggerio spends his winters in Venice and summers in the Chicago area. He has four grown children: Dominic Jr., Anne, Mary and Kathryn. In his off time he fly fishes.
Name: Dominic Ruggerio
D.O.B: 18 August 1939
Birthplace: Bristol, Conn.
Entered Service: 1961
Discharged: 28 February 1990
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 13, 2015 and is republished with permission.
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